Learning how to redeem British Airways Avios for American Airlines flights was a game changer for us. It pushed us to ditch our AAdvantage cards and to start focusing on transferable points such as Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards.
This post will cover everything you need to know about redeeming British Airways Avios (their name for miles/points) for flights operated by American Airlines. There are several moving parts to this, but once you do it the first time, it gets much easier. With the amount of points and money you could save, this is definitely worth learning.
Thanks to British Airways Avios, I once saved about $1400 to fly my parents to Dallas last minute when Taylor broke her elbow.
Why would I want to use British Airways Avios to book American Airlines flights?
This is a great question considering a majority of this blog’s audience is in the US. Most Americans do not collect British Airways Avios. But you do not have to fly British Airways to have access to Avios. You also do not have to have a British Airways credit card. In fact, you may have Avios without even knowing thanks to transferable points!
Transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards to British Airways at a 1:1 ratio
The two rewards currencies we mostly accrue are Chase Ultimate Rewards points and American Express Membership Rewards points. Both of these transfer to British Airways at a 1:1 ratio. Neither of these transfer to American Airlines AAdvantage. Instead, you can use the frequent flyer program of British Airways to book award flights operated by American Airlines.
You can also use British Airways Avios to book flights operated by other Oneworld alliance partners.
Transferable points are superior to airline miles for 2 reasons:
- You have more redemption options. If you only have an AAdvantage card, you’re limited to the redemption options of the AAdvantage program, but with transferable points, there are several ways to redeem. Amex has 19 airline partners and Chase has 10. You can also book flights operated by several airlines indirectly. Using the program of British Airways to book flights operated by AA is just one example of what I call indirect partnerships. Click here for more info on indirect partnerships with Chase Ultimate Rewards airline partners.
- Potential for a lower redemption price. Because there are so many ways to book flights with transferable points such as Amex MR or Chase UR, you are more likely to redeem at lower redemption prices. If you only have AAdvantage miles, you’re stuck with the pricing of the AAdvantage program. Sometimes other programs have better pricing than that of AAdvantage for the exact same AA flight.
Earn your first 100,000 points by opening a Chase Sapphire Preferred card
The Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card is the first card I suggest for almost anyone, no matter what your travel goals are. At the very least, the welcome bonus of 100,000 is worth $1250 if redeemed through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal. You can potentially get even more value out of those points by using transfer partners such as British Airways! This card also earns 2 points per dollar on travel and dining spend. Click here for more information about using the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.
Booking with British Airways may require less points/miles than what AAdvantage requires for the exact same flight
British Airways has a distance based award chart. This can save you lots of points on certain tickets, especially shorter routes that are typically expensive!
For example, a roundtrip direct flight from DFW to Puerto Vallarta requires 25,000 or 30,000 AAdvantage miles (depending on peak and off peak dates). But I can use British Airways Avios to book the exact same flight for only 18,000 Avios. I’ll go over their award ticket pricing in more detail in a moment.
How to book American Airlines flights with British Airways Avios
The currency of the British Airways loyalty program (also known as British Airways Executive Club) is Avios, so I’ll usually refer to their miles as Avios. I use miles, points, and Avios interchangeably, so don’t let that confuse you.
If you are planning to transfer your Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards, DO NOT TRANSFER YET!! You need to make sure your dates are available and you will want to confirm the exact amount of Avios needed before transferring. Transfers are usually immediate, so there is no reason to transfer before you find availability.
Once you transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points or American Express Membership Rewards points to partner airlines or hotels, you cannot get them back to Chase/Amex
When you transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points or American Express Membership Rewards to a partner airline or hotel, your points become the currency of the airline or hotel program. For example, if you transfer 20,000 Ultimate Rewards to British Airways, you now have 20,000 British Airways Avios. Those Avios are now subject to the rules and policies of British Airways Executive Club.
You CANNOT transfer those points back to Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards. So if the dates and American Airlines flights that you want are not available, you are stuck with 20,000 Avios. If you wait to transfer, you can check other Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards partners for other flight options! For that reason, it is best to wait until you are certain your dates are available before transferring any points. I’ll show you how to confirm availability in the next section.
Can I transfer British Airways Avios to American Airlines?
No. But you can use the British Airways loyalty program to book American Airlines flights.
To be clear, these are instructions for using British Airways Executive Club, the loyalty program of British Airways to book. Forget about the AAdvantage program for now.
The redemption cost is determined by the airline loyalty program with which you are booking your flight
So in this case, you will need to figure out the price according to British Airways Executive Club, NOT American Airlines AAdvantage.
I think this is where people get lost, so it’s worth clarifying
- The airline operating your flight and the airline whose loyalty program you are using to book may be two different airlines
- If you’re using British Airways Avios to book an American Airlines flight, American Airlines is operating your flight.
- British Airways Executive Club is the program with which you are booking your award flight.
- So the cost of this award ticket is priced by British Airways Executive Club, NOT American Airlines AAdvantage.
Your ticket is going to be issued by British Airways.
The first step is to determine the redemption cost
If the cost is going to be so high that you aren’t going to get a good value out of using your points, you may want to re-think using British Airways Avios. If you have Chase Ultimate Rewards and/or Amex Membership Rewards points, you can and should also check the price of flights using other airlines that are bookable via each program’s partners. In general, British Airways Avios are good for:
- Nonstop flights
- If you live in a city that is an AA hub, you’re probably going to find British Airways Avios very useful.
- If your destination is an AA hub, you’re likely going to want to use British Airways Avios
- Flights with only 1 connection (2 segments) where at least one segment is relatively short distance.
The reason nonstop and short-distance flights are ideal is because British Airways has a distance-based award chart.
How is the distance calculated for British Airways Avios redemptions?
British Airways calculates the redemption price by adding the sum of each segment, not total distance. So you’ll have to redeem points for the cost of 2 or more segments each way if your departure airport is not one with direct flights.
If you live in a city with nonstop AA flights, many routes cost less than AAdvantage thanks to this award ticket pricing structure of British Airways Executive Club.
American Airlines AAdvantage has a region-based chart and requires the same amount of miles between two regions regardless of the distance or number of connections.
How many British Airways Avios do you need to redeem for award flights operated by American Airlines?
For economy flights:
Note that Zone 1 requires 6,000 Avios on flights outside of US; in US a Zone 1 segment is 7,500
Since British Airways calculates the redemption total by adding the sum of points required for each segment, you’ll have to redeem points for 2 or more segments if your flight has connections. At the minimum of 7,500 for US flights, if you have to book 2 segments, that is at least 15,000 Avios each way. For that reason, British Airways may not be ideal if you’re in a city that requires multiple segments and/or long distances.
The good news is that Iberia, another Chase and Amex transfer partner, also partners with American Airlines and Iberia’s program sometimes works better for AA itineraries with connections. I’ll give pricing examples below. Update: it appears that Iberia has updated its award pricing to match British Airways. I’m working to confirm the new pricing of Iberia and will post about it soon, but the point is, Iberia may no longer be a viable alternative.
If you think that the redemption cost of AA flights booked via British Airways is a good option, you will need to make sure flights are available for your dates. Again, do not transfer until you have completed this step.
Let me drop some irony on you
The one destination you’ll want to avoid when using the program of British Airways to book award tickets is… Europe. But more specifically, the UK. There are 2 reasons for this: 1) transatlantic fuel surcharges and 2) high government taxes and fees. This can result in out of pocket expenses of $300-$400 on an economy ticket.
British Airways collects fuel surcharges on transatlantic flights, including flights operated by AA. This is in addition to taxes and fees.
Any time to you book an international award ticket, no matter what airline operates the flight, you’ll have to pay some taxes and fees. These taxes and fees are imposed by foreign governments and there is no way around them. For reference, using BA to book domestic AA flights would cost only $5.60 each way since that is the only fee collected by the US for travel wholly within the US.
For international flights, usually these fees total less than $100 and they aren’t a deal breaker, but there are a few airports known for high government taxes and fees. UK airports are unfortunately notorious for high taxes and fees. So using British Airways to book flights to Europe results in high fuel surcharges plus potentially high taxes and fees (if the itinerary involves the UK), even if AA operates the flight.
There are other Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards partners that are great for Europe. Click here for several great ways to book flights between the US and Europe.
How to search for award ticket availability for American Airlines flights booked with British Airways
Most airlines limit the amount of award tickets on any given flight. So even if a paid seat is available, you may not be able to book an award seat. Seats made available for partners are often even more limited.
AA flights should show up if you search on British Airways, but the BA website can be a little glitchy. I like to use a different American Airlines partner to search for availability, especially if my dates are flexible. I have found that Qantas is reliable when it comes to searching for AA and other OneWorld partner availability. Also, Qantas shows availability for a whole month at a time, which is why it is helpful if dates are flexible.
Any AA (or other Oneworld carrier) ticket available to book with Qantas miles should also be available to book with British Airways or any other AA redemption partners.
You can also check AA.com for availability, but you have to make sure the ticket is a MilesAAver ticket and not a Web Special or an AAnytime ticket. AAdvantage Web Specials and AAnytime tickets are not bookable with partner airline programs such as British Airways Executive Club. AA has changed its booking engine and the new layout sometimes makes it tough to distinguish between MilesAAver and Web Specials if you aren’t already familiar.
Do not pay attention to the redemption price when you are searching Qantas (or AA.com)
American Airlines, Qantas, and British Always have totally different award ticket pricing models. The amount of miles that American Airlines and Qantas shows will probably be different than what British Airways will require. Remember, if the airline operating the flight and the airline whose loyalty program you are using to book are different airlines, the airline you are using to book determines your redemption price. You are only using Qantas or AA to check for availability in this situation.
Once you have confirmed that a ticket is available for your date, you can confirm pricing and availability with British Airways.
Booking American Airlines award tickets with British Airways Avios
You will need to register for a British Airways Executive Club account if you do not already have one. It’s free. No credit card required.
If you are going to be transferring Ultimate Rewards points or Amex Membership Rewards points, you will need to log in to that account and link it to your British Airways account. Click here for Ultimate Rewards instructions. Click here for Amex MR instructions. DO NOT transfer yet!
Search for your flights with your British Airways account:
Note that these screenshots were published prior to British Airways increasing the amount of Avios required. As of June 2019, the current amount required would be slightly higher than what is shown below.
Under the Book tab, select Book a flight with Avios
Enter your departure, destination, dates, and amount of passengers
In a perfect world, AA flights that you found with Qantas (or MilesAAver space on AA) should show up.
But the British Airways website is a little glitchy and sometimes not all AA space shows up. It appears to be working at the moment, but if the flights you found don’t show up, you’re going to have to call. The number is 1-800-247-9297.
If the flights show up on BA.com, select your flights
Your redemption cost will show
18,000 Avios is correct, because DFW to SJD falls into the 2nd distance tier of 651-1150 miles. This distance band is priced at 9,000 Avios so roundtrip is 18,000. The $104.97 are taxes and fees, most of which are imposed by Mexico and will apply no matter which airline you use to book an award ticket.
You can go ahead and transfer the amount of Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards needed to BA and then select “Continue” and book.
Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards transferred to British Airways are usually posted immediately. Sometimes you have to log out of your account and then log back in.
If you end up needing to call, British Airways agents are usually helpful and pleasant and they should waive any phone booking fees if you are calling because you are unable to book online. Wait until the agent has found your flights before transferring points. Transfers are immediate so this shouldn’t be a problem. You should be able to transfer and complete the booking while still on the phone. Just have everything with your Ultimate Rewards or Amex account ready to go so that you can transfer as soon as the agent gets your flights ready to book.
That’s it! You will get your email confirmation shortly, but it doesn’t hurt to write down your confirmation number.
Comparing British Airways Executive Club pricing to American Airlines AAdvantage pricing
This is a moot point if you don’t already have AAdvantage miles since neither Ultimate Rewards nor Amex Membership Rewards transfer to AAdvantage. But if you have AAdvantage plus British Airways Avios (or points that can transfer to British Airways), read this carefully.
The redemption price using British Airways to book an AA operated nonstop flight from DFW to Cabo in economy is 18,000 Avios roundtrip per person.
That exact same flight would require 30,000 AAdvantage miles.
British Airways is also a great way to book short-haul business class seats on AA
The exact same itinerary but in business class would require 33k British Airways Avios.
If booking with AA miles, the total would be 50,000 AAdvantage miles.
Even if you could transfer Amex or Chase points to American Airlines, you wouldn’t want to for these flights.
Economy DFW to Cabo roundtrip:
- British Airways: 18,000 Avios
- American Airlines: 30,000 miles
Business class DFW to Cabo roundtrip:
- British Airways: 33,000 Avios
- American Airlines: 50,000 miles
What if I need to make changes to an award ticket issued by British Airways?
A good general rule of thumb is that the airline that issues your ticket is who you will need to deal with for any flight change or cancellation issues that you wish to make prior to your flight. So any cancellations or changes you need to make will need to be handled through British Airways.
On the other hand, issues involving your flight for the day of travel such as baggage policies are usually subject to the operating airline policies. So American Airlines determines your checked baggage pricing. Additionally, your seat assignments will be determined by the airline operating your flight. Since American Airlines allows you to select your seat prior to check in, you can select your seat as soon as you have your record locator from British Airways.
What if I need to add a lap infant to an award ticket booked with British Airways?
If you add a lap infant to an itinerary booked with British Airways Avios, BA will automatically add 10% of the adult Avios required to your cost. But there is no fee to add a lap infant to a domestic ticket operated by American Airlines. For that reason, it is better to wait to add the infant. You can even do this the day or travel. No need to spend an extra 10% of Avios when American Airlines doesn’t charge. I wish BA would fix this glitch, but just keep the number of infants at 0 when you are booking a domestic ticket. International tickets are a different story.
For international tickets, you’re either going to have to pay or you’re going to have to redeem more avios for a lap infant ticket.
The paid cost is usually 10% of the adult fare at the time of adding the lap infant, not the price when you booked the ticket. As you get closer to the travel date and the paid ticket cost rises, the infant ticket would probably increase. If you’re in a premium cabin and/or on a long-haul itinerary, this could get expensive.
The other option is to redeem 10% more avios. British Airways allows you to use Avios to add a lap infant to an adult award ticket at the time of booking. British Airways will add a lap infant to your ticket for 10% of the amount of Avios required for the adult ticket.
I would just do some math to figure out the best option. The DFW to SJD itinerary above is ~$650 roundtrip in business class. You would either need to call AA and pay 10% to add the infant (~$65) or you could redeem the extra 10% Avios at the time of booking (which would be 3,300 Avios on a 33,000 Avios ticket).
How to select seats on American Airlines flights booked with British Airways Avios:
If you want to select your seats, you will need to go to AA.com
1. Under the Travel Information Tab, click “My Trips”
2. You can Log in if you have an AAdvantage account, but you don’t have to. You can just select Continue as guest
3. Enter your first name, last name, and record locator then click “Find Your Trip”
It will bring you to your reservation and you will be able to select seats.
More important information when booking American Airlines flights with British Airways Avios
If you have an AAdvantage co-branded credit card, you still get a free first bag even though your ticket was booked through British Airways.
You may have to present the card to an AA agent at the time of check in, but I’ve always successfully used this benefit even on tickets booked with British Airways.
British Airways is not always the best transfer partner if you plan to use Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards
It’s generally not a good program for longer distance flights, especially when multiple segments are involved. But if at least one of the segments is short, it may be worth it.
It’s also not a great program for longer business/first class flights. Short haul business/first class prices are reasonable. For example, DFW to Puerto Vallarta is 16,500 each way or 33,000 roundtrip in first class. But considering that flight is less than 3 hours, I would rather save my points and book economy tickets.
British Airways allows one-way tickets
So if your round-trip flights aren’t available, you could try to look up each way separately and then book one way with British Airways and one way with another airline.
British Airways has a generous cancellation policy for award tickets
Even when redeeming miles and points, I always like to book in a way that I can cancel or change for little to no fee.
British Airways will refund your miles and you only lose the taxes. For domestic tickets, the taxes are only $5.60. Now remember, the points you get back are going to be British Airways Avios. And you can’t transfer Avios back to Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards.
For international flights with higher taxes and/or surcharges, you can pay a cancellation fee to get your taxes, fees, and Avios refunded. The fee is $55.
Note that change/cancel fee waivers are still in place for several airlines due to the pandemic. At the time of publishing (May 2021), fees for voluntarily cancelling or changing a flight booked with British Airways Avios are unclear. British Airways allows free changes and cancellations for paid flights scheduled to depart between now and April 2022, but this may or may not apply to tickets booked with Avios.
How to earn British Airways Avios
The quickest way to earn Avios is a credit card welcome bonus.
Chase actually issues a BA credit card that periodically offers a good welcome bonus, however, I would apply for a Chase Sapphire card that earns Ultimate Rewards points instead. Earning Ultimate Rewards and/or Amex Membership Rewards gives you access to British Airways Avios, plus several other partners.
Other ways to earn Avios:
- BA has a shopping portal. But Ultimate Rewards also has a shopping portal, so if you have a Chase Sapphire card, I would shop through that portal since the Ultimate Rewards you earn can be transferred to BA plus others!
- Of course you can also earn by flying on paid tickets operated by BA and other Oneworld partners and crediting to BA (the old-fashioned way of accruing miles)
I hope this post has cleared up some questions about using transfer partners and partner airlines. I understand this gets confusing and if anyone has any questions please feel free to comment or contact me!
If you haven’t started collecting Chase Ultimate Rewards, start today. You can earn a welcome bonus of 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points with our favorite credit card for beginners, the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
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